New rules for cosmetics advertising: Must contain science?


Well, guess what. Only yet another cosmetics advert has been pulled. A cosmetics advert? Pulled? Honestly? Gee whizz. I am in total shock here. I mean, how could this possibly have happened?! It truly does beggar belief.

This time, it’s an ad for Rodial, claiming that actress Mila Kunis obtained her body shape from the intensive cellulite-busting powers of their snazzy £375-per-litre Body Sculpture product. The ad has been found to be officially rubbish.

Regular viewers will know that there isn’t really that much surprising about the idea that a cosmetics ad will make claims that are difficult to back up with science. Sometimes the ads are manifestly dodgy because their scientific claims are exaggerated, are based on evasive or made-up language, are accompanied by airbrushed images that have the effect of misleading consumers as to the true nature of the scientific evidence being presented, are accompanied by new airbrushed images after the first ones have been banned, or feature Penélope Cruz. (To be fair to Penélope, her ads are objectionable only when she is wearing fake eye-lashes.)

But the interesting thing about this particular case is that the ad was pulled because no scientific evidence was presented at all. As such, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority concluded that cosmetics firms should present evidence-based claims or else stay quiet entirely. In their words:

The ASA considered that most consumers would understand from the claim “checkout and streamline your bum, thighs and tummy with this A-list must have!” implied that consumers who used the product would be able to reduce the appearance of cellulite and tighten and smooth their bottom, thighs and tummy.

Yes, I think that inference is fair. Carry on:

Evidence presented [by Rodial to the ASA only after complaints were received] consisted of information about two active ingredients within the body sculpture product which made reference to in vivo trials on those ingredients. However, the trials themselves were not supplied. Because robust evidence was not presented to demonstrate the implied efficacy claims for the product or that Mila Kunis had achieved the look featured in the photo as a result of using the product, we concluded that the ad was misleading.

This will be something of a challenge for many cosmetics advertisers. Essentially what is being said here is that evidence on the active ingredients underlying beautification claims need to be available or else the associated adverts will be banned.

Good luck with that, ASA.

At the end of the day, most (if not all) cosmetics products will produce little or no material changes to your skin or bodily form. This is because, if they did, they wouldn’t be cosmetics products. They would be medicines. All cosmetics products can do is cover things up superficially. A bit like paint.

Hoi! You missed a bit!

(Seriously, though, paint would change your ‘look’ far more than a body sculpting cream, and without costing nearly as much).

And another thing. I don’t know if you’ve heard this before, but beauty is actually in the eye of the beholder. So in order to present evidence in support of beautification products, we need scientists to work harder on defining ‘beauty’ as an objective construct, and on operationalising that definition so that we can measure that variable in research trials. That’ll take quite a lot of beholding.

Still, it is certainly good to see the authorities take such a stand in banning these claims on a ‘no science, no platform’ basis.

All we need next is to sort out the sexual objectification of women in advertising. Then we’ll be done.

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